VOCA, Spreading the Word about Vermicompost
Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (VOCA) provides short-term technical assistance volunteers to help local organizations, farmers groups and others solve their resource management problems. Recently in Asia, Latin America, Central Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, VOCA responded to request for technical support. VOCA has made headway in these countries. From VOCA volunteers, various groups have learned the value of composting, vermiculture and sound agribusiness management that includes provisions for proper handling of agricultural wastes.
Vermicomposting maximizes worms' capacity to convert compostable materials into nutritious plant food. While humus, a major product of vermicomposting, inhibits soil erosion and promotes water efficiency when used as a soil amendment, it also gives plants a certain degree of disease resistance and is capable of metabolizing and stabilizing potentially dangerous environmental contaminants.
VOCA projects seek to help interested parties apply these principles as a management option of economic and environmental merit. Past collaborative efforts between project hosts and VOCA have demonstrated the benefits of vermiculture and illustrate some valuable lessons in agricultural development.
Koppas Cooperative in Indonesia can re-capture some of the value of its spoiled warehouse produce by composting it, thereby reducing their dependency on synthetic fertilizers. Adoption of this waste management and food production technology will be enhanced if the community chooses to diversify into animal production allowing for an expanded revenue base and nutritional resources for the villagers.
In Honduras, Fundacion Banhncafe, a non-governmental organization, worked with VOCA to reduce the deleterious effect that small coffee processors were having on the local watershed. A number of farms opted to serve as demonstration and seminar sites for transferring appropriate technologies including small-scale composting of coffee pulp and decontamination ditches to detoxify effluent. Community involvement, training and local outreach were key to the success of transferring new skills.
In the Czech and Slovak republics, VOCA helped a number of poultry operations to increase the quantity and quality of their product. Additionally, VOCA made recommendations for a solution to waste problems engendered by broiler production and processing. Costs for depositing the waste were eliminated when the managers opted for compost windrows to decompose meat processing waste, poultry litter and farm manure.
Volgograd AGRO company, the second largest poultry operation in Russia, repeatedly faced fines imposed by the local environmental authorities for its animal and poultry processing waste problems. Composting became a key enterprise to end these fines and draw profit from the sale of good quality humus to regional farmers.
In Lithuania and Latvia, VOCA encouraged a worm producer and a private rural extension service to learn from past lessons in vermicomposting schemes and observe the market demand for vermicompost. A sound market must be developed prior to the establishment of a huge supply of earthworm growers. Organic food production enhanced via compost products seemed a more marketable niche given the proximity of Western Europe and the unproven international demand for humus.
Bio-T, a private enterprise in Kazakhstan, made use of VOCA's vermicomposting expertise. Given the collapse of the state's supply of farm inputs like fertilizer and that 20-30% of produce is grown in country home gardens, the company found an unlimited demand for this food nutrient product. VOCA assistance enabled them to increase efficiency of the conversion of farm wastes to compost and effectively market their product locally.
The Macedonian extension service collaborated with VOCA to transfer key skills. Technical advice emphasized vermicomposting facilities as appropriate to the scale of the farm operation and pursuing a business venture only when there is a clear market demand. Given local conditions, compost production serves local needs to reduce costs and dependency on imported agro-chemicals.
A Modern Tool
The market acts as a powerful force that every farmer, cooperative or agribusiness manager has to reckon with in today's highly unregulated economic climate. Vermicomposting and vermiculture are often viable options for reducing costs and optimizing local resources particularly as a part of an integrated farming system.
Successful adoption of vermicomposting practices can be the result of several factors; education, technical assistance and economic incentives such as reduced input costs and a high demand for compost or compost-enhanced products. Environmental protection played a role only in cases where both policies and enforcement mechanisms were in place or where the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem was near exhaustion, threatening the stability of the public good and clients' economic or physical health. Such experiences with composting indicate that this technology can be applied as a key component for optimal resource use, to eliminate environmental degradation and as a central feature to support sustained and lasting agricultural operations.
This article was submitted by Neil Mozer, Regional Desk Officer, at VOCA's Washington D.C. office.